On Buddhism, reincarnation, and Dundalk F.C.

Various strands of thought are floating around in me at the moment, chiefly Dundalk F.C. and Buddhist philosophy, and they wove together last night as I drifted off to sleep. Bare with me.

It’s commonly thought that in Buddhism there is a denial of a self. Whilst this isn’t strictly true, what is true is that Buddhism says that what we think is the self, is not.
As Walpola Rahula explains in “What The Buddha Taught”

“What we call a ‘being’, or an ‘individual’, or ‘I’, according to Buddhist philosophy, is only a combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces or energies.”

These can be grouped into what are known as ‘the five aggregates’ – Matter, Sensations, Perceptions, Mental Formations and Consciousness. In Buddhism there is no “permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered ‘Self’, or ‘Soul’, or ‘Ego’, as opposed to matter, and that consciousness should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter.” You are a temporary collection of various factors, there is nothing permanent in you. Yet, you seem to continue on as a solid entitiy from year to year.

I thought about this the other day when I was reading the excellent Arsenal anthology “So Paddy Got Up”, collected by Arseblog. In an essay entitled “What Is Arsenal?”, Julian Harris ponders:

“What is the club? What is Arsenal?” Around two thousand years ago – even before Spurs last won the league – a Greek historian, philosophy, and all-round intellectual type named Plutarch posed this conundrum: If a ship is repaired over a period of time, having each of its bits of timber replaced one by one, is it still the same ship? The ship may look similar, and perform the same function, but all the timbers are different.

In terms of its logistical, material, make-up, Arsenal Football Club is at least 99 per cent different to when it was founded in 1886. The stadium is different, the training ground is different and players are different. Indeed, every fan is different. All the pieces have been replaces, several times over, during the club’s long and varied history. Yet it is still the same club, right?”

As well as Buddhist philosophy, I thought of this quote, by Steve Grand

“Consider yourself. I want you to imagine a scene from your childhood. Pick something evocative… Something you can remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you WEREN’T there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place. Every bit of you has been replaced many times over… The point is that you are like a cloud: something that persists over long periods, whilse simultaneously being in flux. Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made.”

Football clubs, like people, are temporary collections of various aggregates, but appear to continue as a solid form. In a being, these aggregates are constantly changing – both mental and physical, to such an extent that you are (physically at least) a different person over time. But, something remains, or appears to remain constant or present. The same with a football club, as Harris pointed out.

But what happens when a football club or a person, dies?

Buddhism is also well known for its doctrine of reincarnation, or more accurately ‘rebirth’. But here lies a problem: The Buddha denied a permanent entity like a Self or Soul, so what could possibly be reborn or reexist after death? If a being is a temporary collection of physical and mental forces or energies, ‘death’ is the total non-functioning of the physical body. But the forces and energies, according to Buddhism, do not stop.

(At this stage we will cheekily point to the Laws of Thermodynamics “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”, but move on swiftly)

As Rahula says:

“When this physical body is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life”.

Glasgow Rangers F.C. technically recently ceased to exist as a football club. However the fan base is still there, the name is still there, the assets are still there. And they have, for all intents and purposes, been reborn via Sevco Scotland Limited, trading as The Rangers Football Club. They will reenter the league and continue. Rangers F.C. continues.

As well as Arsenal, my other love in football is Dundalk F.C. Dundalk, like Rangers before, are a club in a perilous financial situation. They are in real danger of going out of business, and this has motivated fans to try and save the club, and hopefully we will.

But some of the talk refers to Dundalk F.C. ‘going out of existence’ – but I reject this. The current incarnation might die, but the energies and forces will continue on. This is not to say we should not battle to save our club, but it should also serve to allay any hopelessness.

Buddhists believe that when the conditions are right, a being is born. It is the same for a football club – when the conditions are right, the club appears. The energy and forces of the fans of Dundalk F.C. remain. The conditions will be there.

“It is like a flame that burns through the night: it is not the same flame nor is it another”